Face to Face: Encounters with the Risen Jesus – Dealing with Doubt

I’m still working on the audio. In the meantime, here’s the text from this week’s sermon – Dealing with Doubt.

**UPDATE** Sorry – I forgot to post the link. Click here if you prefer hearing a sermon instead of reading it.


For many people, Easter is a lot like Christmas. There’s a big buildup to the day and then – BANG! It’s all over. There’s a phrase about Christmas which says, “The melody lingers on,” suggesting that something of the meaning of Christmas – the amazing miracle of the Incarnation, God taking on flesh – should go on after Christmas Day. In his book, Proclaiming the Risen Lord, Myron Taylor builds upon this idea of the melody lingering on when discussing the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ: “In the New Testament story the mighty fact of the resurrection of Jesus is followed by a series of beautiful, tender, meaningful stories of how Jesus appeared a number of times to many different people. That is a way of saying the meaning of Easter should continue – not merely be packed away for another year.”[1] And so, much like with Christmas, the melody lingers long after that glorious Easter Sunday. It’s the central aspect of our faith as followers of Jesus Christ. Yes, the cross is important. Without the cross, we would not be able to have a right relationship with God. Without Jesus taking on our sins, we would be destined to separation from God because sin causes a divide between us. Without sin dying on the cross when Jesus died, we would have been condemned.

But it doesn’t end at the cross. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are not following someone who was placed in a tomb and stayed there. The good news is that we follow a Risen Savior, and that he has conquered death once and for all. We have hope in the power of God to make all things new – even when it seems like all hope is lost. The power of the resurrection was a central aspect to the life of the early church. It’s also a central aspect to our lives, too.

This week, we’re continuing our series about people who came face to face with the Risen Jesus Christ – focusing on what it meant to them and what it means to us today. This week, we’re looking at a man named Thomas, forever known as ‘Doubting Thomas.’ And we say that like it’s a bad thing. Many people give Thomas a hard time for having difficulty believing in the reality of the resurrection. But when you look at it honestly – can you blame him? For years, they had been telling people to “Come and see.” When some of the Disciples were invited to follow Him, Jesus suggested that they “Come and see.” When the initial Disciples were sharing the message of this new Promised One who had come, they told each other they should “Come and see.” As news of Jesus’ remarkable ministry efforts in the countryside spread, many people said to each other, “Come and see.” Come and see this man who has turned water into wine. Come and see this man who can make the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the lepers made clean. Come and see the man that people are going to extreme measures to encounter. There was a woman who was so desperate for healing that she hoped to just experience a hint of his power by touching his clothes. There was a man whose friends were so desperate to have Jesus heal him that they cut a hole out of someone’s house and lowered him from the ceiling – right in front of Him. The word continued to spread. Come and see! Come and see! Come and see the man whose gaze pierces your soul with the love of God. Come and see His glory. Come and see the Promised One. Come and see Jesus Christ.

And they shouted out this invitation wherever they were and with whomever they met. Many did exactly what they were invited to do. They came and saw. Others, like today, merely scoffed and walked away. And then there were others who wanted him destroyed.

It wasn’t long before Jesus’ popularity became a threat. This Jesus was preaching about the Kingdom of God and how it was available to everyone. He was also calling out the religious elite and their hypocrisy. They’d seen things like this before. They’d seen so-called messiahs come and go ever since they had become part of the Roman Empire. They’d come in, get the crowd fired up, and lead them into rebellion against Roman occupation. Roman military would sweep in, wipe out the rebellion, and put even tighter restrictions on the people of Jerusalem. They’d seen similar things before. This talk of messiah was nothing new. But there was something different about this Jesus. They couldn’t really put their finger on it, but they knew it was not a good thing. This Jesus was dangerous to the religious elite. He threatened their power amongst the people and their protected status with Rome. This Jesus had to go. And so they sought out a time to get rid of this nuisance.

It almost happened one time when they were in Jerusalem. They were having one of their many discussions about who God is and what His kingdom is all about when Jesus said that He and the Father are one. “We’ve got you now, Jesus! You’re just a man and you’re claiming to be God. That’s blasphemy!” The penalty for blasphemy was death. So they picked up stones, ready to put this false-teacher down by stoning him to death.

But they didn’t. Jesus slipped away, escaping their grasp.

Thomas was there. He saw how Jesus had miraculously escaped. It only strengthened his conviction that Jesus was who He said He was. It strengthened his desire to follow Jesus wherever He went.

When the word came that Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, had was very sick, everyone wondered what Jesus would do. Lazarus lived in Bethany, which was a suburb of Jerusalem. Everyone who was still with Jesus knew that going anywhere near Jerusalem would likely mean death. The leaders were still upset that he had gotten away the last time. They were on the lookout for Jesus. And they wanted blood. When they heard Jesus say that he was going to Bethany to wake Lazarus up, the Disciples turned to each other and wondered what to do. Should they stay or should they go? They could get caught up in the mess if the religious leaders showed up. Was it worth the risk? They’d been saying for a long time that they’d die for Jesus. Would they really be willing to lay down their own lives for Him? It was decision time. It was Thomas who stood up and said, “Let’s go with him, so we may die with him.” Thomas was a man of strong character. He was a man who saw many things first-hand and believed. And he was willing to follow Jesus anywhere he went – even if it meant certain death.

They didn’t kill Jesus at that time. And Thomas saw many miraculous things – including the raising of Lazarus from the dead. His faith was strengthened. He knew Jesus was full of power. He knew there was something special about Him. So he followed Him wherever He went.

When Jesus said He was going to enter Jerusalem during the week of the Passover, Thomas wasn’t concerned about dying anymore. He’d been involved in too many close-calls to be concerned about them anymore. True, the rumors of death threats were stronger than before and the fact that they were walking right into the vipers’ pit, Thomas had confidence in the power of Jesus. They’d escaped before. They’d escape again. So he joined the other Disciples in shouting the praises of God, shouting “Come and see! Jesus is here! Come and see the Promised One!” And so he relished in the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. “There’s nothing this Jesus can’t do.” But then Jesus started talking about how he was going to be betrayed. And how he was going to be killed. No. It surely can’t be. Not Jesus. He’d escaped so many other times, surely he’d escape this time. So he wrote it off as something he just didn’t understand. A parable, maybe. Jesus liked to talk in parables. That’s what this must have been – a parable.

But it wasn’t a parable. The man Thomas had seen do so much was now dead. The series of events came down upon him like a rushing waterfall:

“Judas, do you betray me with a kiss?”

“You’ve heard his blasphemy – what is your verdict?”

“Guilty!”

“I find no fault with this man.”
“Crucify him!”

“It is finished.”

It was, indeed, the darkest of days for Thomas and his friends. They had seen so much. They had experienced so much. And now, it all seemed meaningless. How could they ever make any sense of this? Thomas – the one who was so confident in what he had experienced with Jesus – was now lost. His world was spinning further and further out of control. He was falling further and further into despair.

They’d probably come for him and the rest of the Eleven next. So they locked themselves into a room and hid. They’d only go out under cover of darkness, for fear of being identified. One time, Thomas left the safe house. He wasn’t sure why. Maybe a breath of fresh air would help him make sense of it all. After wandering around town, hiding in alleys and sneaking across the streets, Thomas finally stumbled back to the safe house. And that’s when he heard something unbelievable.

If you have your Bibles with you, turn with me to John 20:24. John is the fourth book in the New Testament, the last of the four books we call the Gospels. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. John 20:24 is found on page 945 in that Bible.

Read John 20:24-25

What is the opposite of faith? (pause) It’s not doubt. It’s unbelief. Or disbelief. It’s choosing not to obey God and the principles He has established. That’s the opposite of faith. It’s refusing not to follow God. What Thomas is expressing here is doubt, which is different from disbelief. Thomas wants to believe. He has heard the story of how God has raised Jesus back to life and he wants to believe it. He just can’t. Not yet. He’s already been burned by following Jesus. A week ago, he was proclaiming the Coming King, boldly and triumphantly. He had encouraged everyone to follow Jesus – even if it meant to follow him to death. And now he’s a fugitive, hiding in fear of being caught and killed – just like Jesus. The idea of Jesus coming back to life was a great idea. He’d like to believe it. He just can’t. Not yet.

I’d imagine there are many of us in this room who have been right where Thomas is. We hear stories about how God is doing amazing things in people’s lives and we just don’t see them in our own. You hear testimony about how God has healed someone through the powerful work of His hand, yet your best friend is in a hospital bed, dying of cancer. You hear miraculous stories of how God has provided material goods in miraculous ways, yet you’re sitting on the verge of financial ruin and bankruptcy – through no fault of your own. With every fiber of your being, you want to say that God is in control and worthy to be praised. Yet, you look at how everything is falling apart around you and you wonder if God is really there. And if He does – does He really care? And so you’re in the same place Thomas was. You doubt. Everyone is telling you that things are going to be OK. But you really don’t see how. Nothing from your experience has shown you any different.

The amazing thing about doubt is that God can use it to help strengthen your faith. I think we’re afraid of doubt. We seem to think that we minimize God’s power or presence when we doubt. But we see here with Thomas that doubting is OK. God is big enough to handle our doubts and our questions and our anger. If He wasn’t big enough to handle our doubts, He wouldn’t be very much of a God, now – would He? But God is big enough. He’s big enough for our hurts. He’s big enough for our anger. He’s big enough for our questions and our doubts. Just like He was big enough for Thomas’s doubts.

Read 20:26a

There are a few things to notice from this verse:

1) God didn’t answer Thomas’s doubts and questions right away. It was a whole week before Jesus shows up to them again. You think that was a fun time for Thomas? I’d imagine that he was beating himself up pretty good over the fact that he couldn’t see God at work the same way the other Eleven could see it. God is definitely big enough for all of our doubts and our questions. That doesn’t mean He’s going to answer them right away. He answers in His own time in His own way. God waited a week before responding to Thomas. He could wait even longer to respond to our own.

2) Thomas didn’t give up on other believers. He still hung around them. I’d imagine they prayed and he was with them. They’d sing praises and he’d be right there with them – even though he was still struggling with his faith. That’s an important lesson for us. If you’re struggling…if you’re questioning…if you’re hurting…don’t give up meeting with other believers. It’s the faith of the church which will help you deal with your doubt. It is in the presence of other believers that you will experience Jesus Christ in a new way. The first thing we’re tempted to do when we doubt or when we hurt is to be by ourselves. You don’t feel like worshiping today or being around other people, so you’re tempted to stay home and be by yourself. Friend, that is the time when you need to be with other believers most. That is when you will find the most love and acceptance during your struggle. More often than not, it’s the community of the church that helps bring about healing and understanding. Don’t give up on the church.

3.) And don’t give up on God. Thomas could have left the locked room and gone about his own life. He could have run to the Temple and said that this whole Jesus resurrection thing was a farce. He could have done like many others had done and converted to the pagan gods. He didn’t. And we shouldn’t, either. Just because God doesn’t answer your questions right away doesn’t mean He doesn’t care. He cares for you. He loves you. He loves you so much that He sent His son to the ends of the earth to bring you back to Him. So when you doubt – and there will be times when you doubt…if you’re not doubting already – take those doubts to God Himself. Because He’s big enough. Don’t give up on God, even when everything else seems like it’s crashing down around you. Because God hasn’t given up on you.

Read 20:26b-29

Jesus finally appears and says to Thomas, “Come and see.” Thomas had spent the past three years proclaiming the Son of God. “Come and see Jesus!” he’d shout. And now at the time of his deepest doubt and questioning, Jesus says the same thing to Thomas – “Come and see.” See the nail-pierced wrists and the spear-stabbed side. Come and see Jesus in all His glory. And Thomas’s response is different than all of the others. He cries out, “My Lord and my God!” worshiping Him. That’s what happens when we hand our doubts over to God. He uses them to deepen our understanding of Him. He can turn our doubtful thoughts into a deeper act of worship.

Are you doubting this morning? Are you struggling with something about how God is working? Do you hear all of these stories about how God is doing these amazing things and you just don’t see them in your life? You’re not alone. The way He handled Thomas’s doubt is the same way He handles our doubt – inviting us to come and see.

Come and see the resurrected Jesus. Come and see the peace that He offers – the peace that goes beyond any human understanding. Come and see the joy that He gives. Come and see the rest that He offers to all who follow Him.

Are you angry?

Come and see.

Are you hurting?

Come and see.

Are you doubting?

Come and see.



[1] Proclaiming the Risen Lord, Myron J. Taylor, p. 125

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